Surfers come to Las Peñitas, 20km west of León, for reliable Pacific waves, although the village’s relaxed vibe is enjoyable whether you’re bound for board or hammock. The water here is fairly rough, due to a combination of powerful waves and riptides, but you can swim reasonably safely. Poneloya, 2km north, is a different story: ask locals about riptides (corrientes peligrosos) before venturing into the water, and never swim alone. Nearby Isla Juan Venado is a nature reserve and turtle-nesting site.
Founded in 1524, León Viejo (Mon–Fri 9am–5pm, Sat & Sun 9am–4pm; C$45), 32km east of the modern city and now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the original site of León, before it was destroyed by an earthquake and volcanic eruption on December 31, 1609. Among the ruins excavated since the site’s discovery in 1967 are a cathedral, monastery and church; the graves of Nicaragua’s first three bishops and of the country’s founder, Francisco Fernández de Córdoba, were also uncovered. It’s a modest site, although a wander around the half-restored buildings and accompanying plaques gives you a good idea of just how bloody Nicaragua’s colonial history was. The surroundings are almost as fun: for much of the year the woods are rich with birds and butterflies, and the old fort, located just east of the main ruins, offers tremendous views of Lago de Managua and brooding Volcán Momotombo.